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Cardinals showered with early praise over Nkemdiche selection

Mississippi’s Robert Nkemdiche poses for photos after being selected by the Arizona Cardinals as the 29th pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The NFL Draft Thursday night did not go according to the countless mock drafts by analysts, fans and players alike, much to the Arizona Cardinals’ delight.

Arizona is receiving high praise from numerous NFL insiders on the team’s selection of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche from Ole Miss. NFL Nation reporter Josh Weinfuss gave the Cardinals a thumbs up in his post-first-round analysis.

The Cardinals got a steal here with Nkemdiche, the risky defensive tackle from Ole Miss. He’s talented and makes the Cardinals’ defense (fifth in the NFL in 2015) even scarier with another pass-rusher. Arizona has taken on players who have dealt with off-field issues before, as Nkemdiche did in college.

Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar handed out his grades for the first-round, and the Cardinals received an A- for the Nkemdiche selection.

The Cardinals get one of the most dominant players in this class regardless of position, as Nkemdiche can be a real problem from any gap. His off-field issues will have to be vetted, as well as the concern that he doesn’t get everything out of his potential on the field, but if Bruce Arians can corral Nkemdiche’s talent as he did with Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona now has a run-stopping monster with the ability to rush the passer no matter where he is on the line.

The Cardinals also received an A- grade from Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier.

The Arizona Cardinals have a good track record with players whose college careers were a little sketchy. They are also in a good position to incur risk in the name of finding over-the-top impact. The Cardinals defense registered a modest 35 sacks last year despite playing some awful offensive lines in the NFC West. Adding Nkemdiche and Chandler Jones—another guy who had an eventful winter, substance-wise—changes the complexion of the Arizona front seven for the better.

ESPN NFL insider John Clayton joined Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM in early April and mentioned that the Cardinals should absolutely consider Nkemdiche, but thought the defensive tackle would not fall to Arizona at No. 29. However, Nkemdiche’s arrest in December on marijuana possession likely prompted Nkemdiche to fall into Arizona’s lap.

Although Nkemdiche has had some off the field concerns, NFL Nation reporter Kevin Seifert views the Cardinals as the best possible landing spot for him.

I can’t think of a better place for Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche than the Arizona Cardinals. Nkemdiche had well-documented issues at the end of his college career, but the Cardinals can surround him with a veteran roster and a free-thinking coach in Bruce Arians. Nkemdiche continues the Cardinals’ aggressive makeover of their pass rush, which produced the fewest sacks last season (36) of any 2015 playoff team. Nkemdiche will join defensive end Chandler Jones, acquired from the New England Patriots, and defensive end Calais Campbell for what is suddenly a formidable defensive front.

While Nkemdiche does possess the skill set to be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, ESPN NFL draft analyst Kevin Weidl thinks the defensive tackle has extensive baggage coming with him.

One of the biggest boom-bust prospects in this class, Nkemdiche has a rare combination of size, explosiveness and natural athleticism, but comes with some risk both on and off the field. He is a versatile defender that flashes as quick and as explosive a first step as any defensive tackle in this class to create penetration up the field. However, while he is very disruptive on tape, he hasn’t been productive and can show better instincts to finish. In addition, there are major red flags with his off-the-field character and that could ultimately determine whether he can reach his potential as a player.

Even with the ‘major red flags’, Cardinals fans and players reacted with a consensus excitement behind the Nkemdiche pick. The selection shows Steve Keim and Bruce Arians do intend to go all-in next season, and if Nkemdiche rises up to his potential, they have added a deadly piece to their defense.

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